Strengths and Culture: Beauty and Meaning

As a shaper of culture, keep three things in mind: First, the convergence of cultures actually creates a new culture. Secondly, the convergence of cultures allows for individuals to grow in their unique identities. Finally, a Strengths Based approach can Infuse the world with Beauty and Brilliance through relationship and conversation. For those of you who wonder how to influence your cultures to become a Strengths Based, we have gathered from the lessons of Yo-Yo Ma to apply to our work.

The emotional music of a well-played cello heals me. Yo-Yo Ma, the young musical prodigy turned cultural troubadour, is one of my favorite cellists not only because he is a master of art but a humanitarian fueled by meaning, curiosity, and a belief that we are all connected. Recently I watched a documentary called The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

In the year 2000, Yo-Yo Ma scoured the world from Asia to Europe and Africa to find master musicians and invite them to participate in something he called the Silk Road Ensemble. He didn’t know what would transpire, but it was a musical experiment that began to scratch the itch of our individual meaning in the world. The “Silk Road” points to the ancient trade routes that signify a journey of not just trade from East to West, but a convergence of cultures, arts, music, and conversations. This film was 15 years in the making, and I found myself moved by the music, performances, poignant interview clips, back stories, and beauty.

As Strengths professionals, we resonate with the globally renowned musicians in the film. We, at Leadership Vision, do believe some of the sentiments communicated in The Music of Strangers can be translated into our work with Strengths as it applies to culture. At Leadership Vision, we are on a mission for shaping beauty-infused, meaning-making cultures with the language of Strength. Meaning, we listen for the Strengths of others and compare them to the tens of thousands of people we’ve heard from about their Strengths. We observe people’s behaviors and are quick to mirror back the genius we see. Through art and narrative, we inspire people to become woven into the global conversation about what is right with people.

Three things became apparent to me about the nuances of The Silk Road Project, Culture, and Strengths:

1.) The Convergence of Cultures Creates a New Culture

The musicians that gathered [for the Silk Road Ensemble] didn’t all speak the same language. They didn’t play the same instruments. They didn’t have the same upbringing. Everyone was foreign to the other. In coming together, they became a culture known for learning and adapting, and making more beautiful music than they could make on their own. As any good anthropologist or therapist could predict, the issues in the convergence of these musicians with different worldviews, languages, and preferences could be problematic, but Yo-Yo Ma modeled that differences are beautiful. Making music was their common ground. Each called to something deeper; they adopted a learning posture. They played their hearts out. They pushed back fear with expressions of beauty. Something from their depths of being human drew them to Yo-Yo Ma’s experiment. They all were changed, including Yo-Yo Ma.

Infusing the Strengths language into a culture is wrought with unknowns. What we know is that when we encounter difference it can be scary. It can be tempting to use the Strengths words to prescriptively label behavior to easily compartmentalize what is not familiar in order to predict the exact outcome. For example, Achievers always work hard, so why are we disappointed or confused when they don’t work hard?

Yo-Yo Ma didn’t pull together a group with an end in mind. He celebrated the journey of being human. We cherish difference and apply Strengths descriptively. We may wonder what else might be going on if Achievers aren’t working hard just like we expect them to work. We take a learning posture to fuel our creativity to allow for deeper innovation.  Then, learning happens beyond the words, notes, and music which creates another culture. We create new cultures with the vehicle of Strengths, and it is often messy, fully-alive, and beautiful.

2.) The convergence of cultures allows for individuals to grow in their unique identities

Each musician came alive in the new culture they had created in the Silk Road Ensemble, but through the journey we also witnessed them coming alive back in their homeland with a fire to pass their artistry onto the next generation. Their roots were awakened and their identities sharpened.  Their passions for the people and passing on the art to the next generation became heightened. It seems they never lost touch with where they came from. We watch a woman going back to her home to teach the artistry of a gaita gallega or a Spanish bagpipe. We see flutes smuggled into Syria refugee camps and put in the hands of children. The musicians’ contributions back into their cultures of origin no matter wars, poverty, or political unrest, were noteworthy. They gave back and paid it forward in one swoop.

It is easy to lose who you are in a melting pot of people from a lot of different parts of the globe. The perceived threat of creating a new culture is it will be diluted and homogenous, but the opposite can happen. As with Strengths Based cultures, it is easy to lose who you are or feel left out if you don’t share the dominant Strengths in a group. But like the musicians, using Strengths enriches conversations, pushes us to grow and understand more deeply. We can feel more alive, at home in our skin, and poised to make meaning on a larger scale. Using Strengths in a culture can set the table for individuals to become more of who they already are.

3.) A Strengths-Based approach can Infuse the world with Beauty and Brilliance

At one point in the documentary, Yo-Yo Ma’s son stated this, “I’m not sure my dad sees himself as a cellist, but as a person who wants to change the world who just happens to have a cello in his hand half the time.”

We are not so bold as to say we can change the world, but at Leadership Vision, we believe that we don’t see ourselves as Strengths professionals as much as people who want to infuse the world with beauty and meaning through conversation and relationship. We just happen to use Strengths as a language half the time.

Join us in the pursuit to infuse beauty and brilliance into your culture of origin or current cultures of which you find yourself part.